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5 Commonly Misunderstood Civil Rights Movement Facts

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Black girls fighting for integration in education during Jim Crow

Name five civil rights movement facts. How many of them would you bet your life on? 

The civil rights movement is one of the most consequential periods in American history. It had its famous heroes, typical & atypical villains, and countless forgotten foot soldier. 

There are basic things you learn in school about the movement, but, unfortunately, some basic misconceptions as well.

Below, we have just 5 of the most commonly misunderstood facts about this incredible time in America. 


  1. Not just a Southern problem

 Image Name Although much attention was and is still is given to the civil rights movement in the South, the struggle for equality and desegregation was also also taking place in the North.

A civil-rights movement truism once stated: “In the South, the white man doesn’t care how close you get, as long as you don’t get too high. In the North, he doesn’t care how high you get, as long as you don’t get too close.”

Northern cities like New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Pittsburgh embraced segregation, though it wasn’t technically legal.  They forced black people into the confines of overcrowded inner-cities. Non-violent struggles to end segregation and advance reform started taking place in the North well before the 1960s. One of the events that took place in New York City as part of the Northern struggle became the largest civil rights protest.

Until this day, New York City has one of the most segregated public school systems in the country.

  1. The largest civil rights protest

 Image Name The March on Washington, though massive and historical, was not the largest one day protest during the civil rights movement. The title of largest civil rights protest goes to the 1964 New York City Public School Boycott. Approximately 460,000 students refused to go to school on February 3rd to demand a swift desegregation of the city’s public schools.

The one day boycott was planned by civil rights activist and pastor Milton Galamison and organized by Bayard Rustin. Although segregation in the school system had been illegal in New York since 1920, housing segregation patterns predictably led to racially segregated school system.

Schools attended by mostly black and latino students were inferior on all levels, from facilities to experienced teachers. The boycott demanded that the city come up with a plan to integrate schools in order to improve the education quality black and latino students received.  

  1. Not a tired old woman

 Image Name The story goes that Rosa Parks was a tired old woman who wouldn’t give up her seat on a bus to a white man. But the story is much deeper than that.

Rosa Parks was an anti-segregation activist and the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP. She had taken various civil-rights trainings and comes from a family of activists.  She was only 42 when she was arrested for her actions on that bus and is quoted as saying, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

The story of Rosa Parks that’s told and taught in school is that she’s an everyday person who gained notoriety by one simple act on a bus. But that story discounts all she had contributed to the civil rights movement before that point. She was a trained activist who was willing and ready to face the consequences of her actions, regardless of her being tired after a long day at work.  

  1. The forgotten March

The March on Washington is largely remembered for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. What is often forgotten is the full title of the march, which is “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

Economic justice was the top focus of the march. Dr. King as well as organizers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin understood that economical equality and justice was a massive step in reaching racial equality. The Poor People’s Campaign, also known as Poor People’s March on Washington, was planned in 1968. The full campaign took place between May 12 and June 24 of 1968.

Few months before the campaign began, Dr. King announced demands of the movement, including annual construction of affordable residence, full employment, and $30 billion to be designated for anti poverty programs.

Dr. King’s assassination overshadowed this important cause that was a crucial part of the civil rights movement.

  1. The unsupported cause

It is difficult to imagine that Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and many other brave soldiers of the civil rights movement were once labeled as traitors and communists and were hated figures in their times, but they were. That’s because the civil rights movement was not a supported cause by majority of Americans.  

In May 1961, in a Gallup survey, only 22 percent of Americans supported what the Freedom Riders were doing. And 57 percent of Americas said that the sit-ins at lunch counters and other demonstrations by Negroes were hurting the Negro’s chances of being integrated in the South.

Half a century after the movement, it is easy to think that today’s heroes of Black History Month and American history were always beloved figures. We should keep this in mind when discussing today’s controversial figures who are advocating for nothing  but justice and equality. 

These are just 5 misconceptions about the civil rights movement. Let us know in the comments some other ones we should highlight also.